Interview with Robert Bjärmyr of Chugger
Since forming in 2012, Chugger is developing a sound influenced by Gothenburg metal and southern American metal, and building a fan base in Europe. How well are your European fans responding to you?
Our music is very well received in Europe, as is most Swedish metal. In my opinion, playing in Europe is a lot more fun than performing in Sweden mostly due to the (for lack of a better word) strong-silent-type culture we have here. A Swede can stand still for the entire show and come up afterward telling you it was the best show they've ever seen, buy a few t-shirts, etc. Eastern Europeans, however, really like to get their blood pumping, and rarely stand still during shows. Our fellow metalheads in Spain are absolutely insane any day of the week. But not everybody enjoys music in the same way. We're just happy they enjoy our music!
Sweden has spawned many bands who had a huge impact on underground music, such as Candlemass, Bathory, Entombed, Marduk. Meshuggah, Arch Enemy and Dark Funeral. What is it like for new bands to come from a country with that kind of a track record?
It's an ongoing legacy, that's for sure, and it does carry some weight when playing in Europe. Pretty much saying “metal band from Sweden” puts a seal of approval on your music right away. Don't get me wrong, there are exceptions to the rule, but I would say that the average underground Swedish band is setting the bar pretty damn high. I suspect that cultural support and government-funded music activities are partly the reason why Sweden has so many artists and musicians. Maybe there's something in the water here, or because bad weather keeps us indoors for half the year. I usually say that summer is the best day of the year, haha.
The band was founded in 2006 but didn’t start releasing material until 2013. What accounts for the long period of inactivity?
Chugger didn't exist as a band until 2012. Before then there was material being written in a “project form” while I was performing in other bands as a session musician. At a point, I started taking more and more responsibility and eventually handled most of the band’s business. So I said, “If I'm doing all this work, why not do it with my own music?” Said and done, my own project became a band and the old bands became former projects. Using past experience and my usual dedication, we were on tour promoting our first EP “Scars” seven months after the decision to form the band.
Are the bands you were a session musician for still active today? Can we hear any of the material you worked on with them?
I don't think any of them are active in any greater regard these days. They were local/amateur bands and I did a few tours and a couple of records with them, but there was too much of a “someone is going to knock on that door soon” mentality going on. I believe in making my own fortune or at least “reaping what you sow”, so to speak, and that became the catalyst of me moving on with my music. I haven't really looked back since.
Were the members of Chugger playing in other bands previously? How did you meet and how has the lineup managed to stay together after all this time?
Gothenburg is a musically dense city, so most members were found through musical connections; friends of friends and/or people simply hanging out in bars. But the problem with having a laser-focused vision and a go-get-it mindset is finding similar-minded people willing to invest their time and effort. We've had our share of members who, seemingly, only wanted to join in on the ride but wouldn't contribute. A band is a family and the machinery we run only functions smoothly when everyone does their part. So over the years, we've had some member swaps and some people we had to let go.
The current members were originally from a band we played a show with, and we more or less combined our experience in both bands and created Chugger 2.0. Our current line-up does indeed feel like a fresh start with everyone doing their thing, and doing it well!
How supportive are musicians and bands of one another in Gothenburg? Can the same be said for independent labels and fanzines?
There's a camaraderie among bands; at the same time, there's a lot of friendly competition in terms of stage time. Anyone who's played beyond Gothenburg knows ego and selfishness gets you nowhere. Unless, perhaps, you're Yngwie Malmsteen, but luckily those guys are few and far between and for the most part we're all great friends. That goes for most of the bands we've shared the stage with.
As for fanzines and labels: The scene and industry can be quite harsh, but there are a lot of enthusiastic people who dedicate their time and energy to making something great. Unfortunately, the established ”dragons” tend to win and the small labels run out of energy or lack the funding to compete for airtime and media coverage. There's also the plethora of so-called “great deals” an upcoming band is faced with, which often breaks the band either financially or spiritually due to being a cash cow kind of deal for the label’s larger bands. It's a jungle for sure, but these days I'm very glad we've found our home at a great Italian label named Wormholedeath. We really feel that we have a focus and commitment from the label that matches our own. Exciting times!
How much dedication does Wormholedeath Records have for helping smaller Swedish bands be heard by wider audiences?
I'm not sure how many Swedish bands they have worked with previously, but when it comes to Chugger they have been immaculate. Great social media skills and they are very agile in noticing new media articles or reviews etc. We worked out a solid release plan together and we're really looking forward to seeing what this album will bring to the table!
Can you describe the release plan the band worked out with Wormholedeath? How many of your releases have they handled? Did their promotion include magazine interviews and live shows?
'Of Man And Machine' is the first album we're releasing with Wormholedeath and they're doing a terrific job so far. We have a contract that pretty much spans all areas, but understandable focus at the moment is getting our music out there. We've had a few options for tours but due to COVID-19 we pretty much can't do a lot at the moment. As Carlo (Wormholedeath) said, he's putting his name on the line for us, which to me is the utmost form av respect. We trust him and Wormholedeath to do what's best for us and they trust us to deliver the best possible products and performance we can. This mutual trust really allows both parts to do what they do best. A one plus one equals three, kind of thing.
How many bands has Chugger performed within the many years they’ve been active?
On average we have two supporting acts per show and occasionally we're the supporting act. We've worked with a ton of great bands, all working tenaciously to get heard in the business. Earlier we used to hand pick our supporting acts, but these days we leave it to the venue/organizer/booker. Most of the time, they have insight into the local scene where we're playing and it makes no sense for us to micromanage that. When going on tour or performing multiple gigs with another band we usually check them out - and quite often - befriend the people in the band.
What is the focus of the band’s lyrical content, and why did you decide to steer your lyrics in that direction?
We tend to focus on the darker aspects of human behaviour, be it revenge, hatred or the macabre. There's a lot going on in the world that no one should be proud of, and music for me has always been an outlet to rid myself of stress and angst. But the intent was never about “hey, let's try to write an angry song!”; it just happened naturally with everything that was going on with the world while I was growing up, and is still going on.
As a teenager, when the curtain falls and the savage nature of mankind is revealed in all its glory, it's easy to lose track and embark on a self-destructive path. Without proper guidance, it can be quite difficult to pull yourself out of that dark place, but music helped me a lot with that. In a way writing music is a bit like journaling, or even self-care, only that our stories and experiences expressed aren't necessarily founded in self-experienced events.
We've had plenty of people coming up to us after shows with genuine happiness saying ”this was just what I needed, thank you so much!”. We've even had people simply hugging us without saying anything. And we're all tough angry-looking people, haha!
Cite some of the events that inspired the band’s lyrics from your debut EP onward. Are those songs also penned to inspire people to think about said events?
Interesting question. We're not a political band, and we seldom sit down to write about a specific topic. But it's not necessarily current events that inspire the lyrics, for instance; we have found a lot of inspiration (lyrically) from serial killers like Ed Gein, the Japanese Maruta experiments, animal and child abuse, Utøya and other terrorist attacks, kidnappings and general warfare and torture. All that good stuff. Showcasing the “better side” of humanity, and so on. But we've also written about unity and self-empowerment, rising up from the shit around you and growing stronger than your foes. A major recurring theme is revenge, so even if there's darkness there's also the promise that what goes around comes around. And I think that is what sticks with the listener. Dave Mustaine said it best: take no prisoners, take no shit.
Where does the inspiration to write songs about warfare come from?
Wars are usually started for the most stupid of things and are more than often disguised under the banner of freedom. And it's all about perspective too; The Vietnam War, for instance, is called the Resistance War Against America in Vietnam, or even The American War... There's rarely a good cause for war, and it brings out all kinds of nasty from the people who endure them. When it comes to our songwriting we tend to write more about the psychological effects and the “beast within” rather than armed forces and brigades. We'll leave that to Sabaton, haha.
What were the Maruta experiments and when did they take place in Japan? What made you want to write about them?
I can't recall exactly what triggered it, but I was talking to my brother about weird shit and he mentioned Maruta. The word means 'log' in Japanese and was basically a metaphor used by the Japanese people in their human experiments during World War II to describe prisoners/victims, i.e. “how many logs fell today?”
Some of their experiments included exposing people, mostly Chinese, to biological weapons, flamethrowers, completely freezing and thawing body parts to see the effect and removing and reattaching body parts in the wrong places. They infected and poisoned regular citizens to study the effects of it, and it didn't matter if it was infants or elderly - in fact, they encouraged a so-called 'broad selection'. Mothers died protecting the infants when subjected to poisonous gas, and they received intentional damage to their wombs while impregnated to see how much the body could endure before the child died. There were routine cases of rape and forcefully infecting with STD's. I remember one story told about guards who chose from a “buffet” of female prisoners, and one of the guards noticed that a prisoner had pus oozing from her sex organ due to rotting and sick tissue. He just went on to the next cell. Disturbing shit.
There was a real plan to release a plague in California, which would most likely cause millions and millions to die, but fortunately, they surrendered five weeks before the planned execution of the plague. Unfortunately, it took two nukes and a lot of innocent lives for the Japanese government to pull the plug. History shouldn't forget about the events, as they were almost silenced due to immunity gained by the people responsible in exchange for confessing. One of the lines in the lyrics goes “take this secret to your grave”, which was what every soldier, doctor, and scientist was instructed to do.
Now, the song didn't make it in time for the coming album “Of Man And Machine”, but it's a great song with powerful lyrics.
What about Ed Gein and his exploits did you want to capture in your song about him?
Being a fan of horror movies it was more or less inevitable to end up learning and reading about the man who inspired so many movies, such as Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Silence of the Lambs and many more. The guy is really in a league of his own when it comes to the macabre. I mean, even Hannibal Lector seems like a highly civilized and decent guy compared to Ed... We have several songs in the pipe as there's an absolute abundance of material surrounding this, proper, psycho. We are artists though, so there's usually a bit of artistic freedom when it comes to interpreting the events that happened. Basically, a song is a mini-movie or book that tells the experience of something, and where facts are missing we fill in the blanks, so to speak. So we're not writing facts, but fiction inspired by reality and real events.
Do you think there are fewer preconceptions about lyrics that reflect on the darker sides of human nature than there were when you became a metal fan? Or has the perception remained more or less the same?
I think the general awareness in the world is kind of breaking the rainbow facade down. Sure, the world isn't all bent to shit, but there's definitely a greater understanding that a large percentage of the world isn't wanting what's best for you. But it's all in cycles, I guess; mankind had a great depression, then came the super hits of the eighties, and now we're adjusting the doomsday clock pretty much every week. Pretty sure we'd either nuke ourselves to the Stone Age or get along in the end. Either way, we're providing the soundtrack for the apocalypse.
I think it's important to think for yourself and to know both sides of any given story. If you're sticking to one side of the coin/history/fable you’re pretty much doing yourself a disservice by letting others dictate what's true or not. Educate yourself. Learn and read what's happening. When you got the facts straight, form an opinion. For me, that's what a large percentage of the world is missing today; we got all the freedom in the world, but we're not using it.
Your next full length “Of Man and Machine” is scheduled to be released in April. In what ways is it an improvement for the band musically and lyrically?
It's an evolution of our sound and is better and bigger in every aspect, really. Nothing was left to chance on this album and every little piece has been polished and fits together perfectly. Everyone in the band has really outdone themselves and the return to Studio Fredman for our full-length album really turned out to be the perfect choice for us. I believe it can be heard on the album, as well.
Describe what the songs appearing on the new album were written about. How do you think your listeners will respond to the new material?
If you liked the old Chugger, you'll love the new material. If you didn't like us before you'll love us now, haha.
So far the reviews and opinions on the album have been pretty much all ten out of ten, and that's pretty cool. Really looking forward to getting the album into the public hands!
Do you plan to include your song about the Japanese Maruta experiences on a future album? Do you have similar ideas in mind for other new songs?
The song didn't reach the polish phase this time, but there are also a lot of songs that didn't this time around. So we're in a pretty good place for the follow-up record, whenever we may. It feels weird to talk about the next album before this one is released, but the mind never sleeps...
Do you hope to eventually become well known in the US underground market? How soon do you expect this to happen?
We would absolutely love to tour in the US, but there's such a huge startup cost in time and money to just get the bus rolling across “the pond”. But considering In Flames, Judas Priest, Queen and many more huge acts today took a lot of time to become famous in the US, we got a few years left to get our momentum going. Hopefully, it won't take that long for us though!